Gilroy native dies in taco eating contest

Dana Hutchings choked during event in Fresno

The family of Gilroy native Dana Hutchings is in mourning after the 41-year-old father died during a taco eating competition earlier this month.

Paramedics were unable to revive Hutchings after he began to choke at the conclusion of the Aug. 13 eating contest at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, according to authorities.

Fresno County Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said the taco eating competition took place between innings of a Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball game. Event medical staff noticed that Hutchings was in distress just before he fell to the ground. The medical staff called 911 and performed the Heimlich maneuver and other first aid before paramedics arrived.

Hutchings was transported to a nearby hospital, where medics continued to try to clear his airway and revive him, Botti said. Hospital staff were unable to save Hutchings. He was pronounced at 8:24pm, about 30 minutes after he arrived at the hospital.

The sheriff/coroner’s office conducted an autopsy, which determined Hutchings died of accidental choking, Botti said.

Hutchings, who leaves behind a 16-year-old son, was born and raised in Gilroy, said his mother, Dora Hutchings. He attended Gilroy High School before moving to Stockton to complete high school. Hutchings had lived in Fresno for about three years before he died.

Dora Hutchings was still in shock about her son’s death when contacted this week. She said Dana called her earlier in the day Aug. 13, when he was on a bus to Chukchansi Park. He told his mother that he was invited to participate in the scheduled taco eating contest, and he would call her when it was over.

She told Dana to be careful, recalled Dora Hutchings, who is still a Gilroy resident. In the evening Aug. 13, she began to worry when Dana didn’t call her. She tried calling and texting him repeatedly, as it was unusual for him to fail to call or respond to her texts. Dana’s sister, who also lives in Fresno, also tried contacting him but did not receive a response.

Dora Hutchings then received a call from Gilroy Police late at night, and was told to call the hospital in Fresno. She called the hospital, where a doctor told her that her son had choked to death.

“He got along with everybody,” Dora Hutchings said on the phone this week. “He was a nice kid.”

She said her son grew up volunteering for Gilroy Chamber of Commerce events and the Gilroy Garlic Festival. He also used to volunteer to help the homeless in San Jose, and had worked as a cook for several years. Recently, he had been doing photography for area entertainers, his mother said.

“I’m still in shock. I can’t believe what happened,” Dora Hutchings said. “I sure do miss him.”

Fresno Grizzlies President Derek Franks said in a statement, “We are devastated to learn that the fan that received medical attention following an event at Tuesday (Aug. 13) evening’s game has passed away. The Fresno Grizzlies extend our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the family of Mr. Hutchings. The safety and security of our fans is our highest priority. We will work closely with local authorities and provide any helpful information that is requested.”

The taco eating contest that Hutchings participated in was “NOT a Major League Eating sanctioned event,” reads a post on the Grizzlies’ Facebook page. 

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